The Unemployed People’s Movement (UPM) was formed in August 2009 to respond to the crisis of unemployment and the commoditization of essential services in a society dominated by corruption and greed. As Steve Biko said, we blacks are tired of standing at the touchlines to witness a game that we should be playing. We want to do things for ourselves and all by ourselves. This is a realisation that we are the protagonists of our lives and nobody will free us but ourselves; we – the unemployed – will have to be our own liberators.
Despite celebrations of freedom on 27 April every year, severe and widespread poverty persists. Our education system is in tatters, the future of many black kids has been declared futureless. Unemployment is sky rocketing, wasting the talents of many young people who are condemned to a life of permanent poverty. Many black people continue to lack access to electricity, clean water and proper sanitation. Many are terminally under nourished. All these things are happening when the elite and the government officials are living affluent lives. The president has just built a mansion in Enkandla to the tune of more than R400m. Malema has also built a house to the tune of R16m. Every weekend the elite host parties and weddings that cost no less than a million while the people they claim to represent go to bed on an empty stomach and live in absolute poverty. They do not find this morally troubling. They have no conscience, otherwise they would not have killed Andries Tatane and many other activists; they would not shoot us with rubber bullets when we protest because they have neglected us. The prophetic Biko was spot on again when he once said ‘Tradition has it that whenever a group of people has tasted the lovely fruits of wealth, security and prestige it begins to find it more comfortable to believe in the obvious lie and accept that it alone is entitled to privilege.” It is this prestige and wealth that forms a hard shell around their consciousness so that they do not see that it is fellow human beings suffering in the poverty around them. Karl Marx put it in a different tone: “History repeats itself, first as tragedy, second as farce”. Apartheid was a tragedy, but our economic apartheid is a farce. Indeed history repeating itself. We are repeating the disaster of the post-colonial regimes that Fanon attacked fifty years ago.
We live in a society where the unemployment rate is said to be 23% while the truth is different. Our government is committed to propaganda. The real unemployment rate is closer to 40%.
We live in a society where to be black and unemployed is held to mean only one thing – laziness and expecting too much from the government. We live in a society where to speak out against government injustice is said to mean that you are lazy and ungrateful. We live in a society where people that speak out against the injustice that we live with every day means that we are told that we are being used by someone else. We live in a society where the poor are denied basic health care because of our inability to pay. Every time the poor go to the clinics we are certain of getting panado regardless of our illness. We live in a society where the affluent elite live in their fortress and bubbles and see nothing wrong with the excessive amount of poverty and inequalities. They see the poor majority as a threat to society. They do not see this society as a threat to the majority. Yes we live in a society where slavery, colonialism and apartheid were abolished and yet the majority of black people live below the poverty line.
Apartheid was only abolished on papers but in real life, it is so vivid. What is the difference between the secrecy act of apartheid and the current protection of the information bill? What is the difference between the apartheid homeland leaders and chiefs and the current traditional courts bill? What is the difference between the death of Hector Peterson on the 16 June 1976 uprising and the recent murder of Andries Tatane? What is the difference between the way in which any white person could freely call any black person a liar and a criminal under apartheid and the way in which some whites today think that they have a natural right to dominate the struggles of the black poor and feel that they have freedom to call any poor black activist that does not accept their authority liars, criminals and fools without having any evidence at all for their slander? What is the difference between the corrupt apartheid government and the current government that is corrupt beyond repair. Think of the arms deal, the Travelgate scandal, Richard Mdluli, Shabir Schaik, Bret Kebble, Tony Yengeni, all the tenderpreneurs, the local municipalities that have become milking cows for the leadership of the ruling party, and then spot the difference. Think of Zuma’s R24m mansion in Enkandla, paid for by the taxpayer’s money and think of the mud house that are surrounding his mansion, mud houses that are crumbling down. Close your eyes for a moment and try and think hard. Please do not tell me that our current leaders may even be more corrupt.
Our leaders have become the nuts and bolts of the machine that is oppressing us today. They have become stooges of capital. They have not confronted white racism seriously. We are important as far as voting is concerned to them but all they see in us is that we are voting cattle. Our new elite has taken the old masks of the colonialists and is proudly wearing them. As Fanon puts it, the mission of the new elite has “nothing to do with transforming the nation; it consists, prosaically, of being the transmission line between the nation and a capitalism, rampant though camouflaged, which today puts on the masque of neo-colonialism.”
Martin Luther King Jr. once declared that, “A true revolution of values will soon cause us to question the fairness and justice of many of our past and present policies. We are called to play the Good Samaritan on life’s roadside; but…one day the whole Jericho road must be transformed so that men and women will not be beaten and robbed as they make their journey through life…”. This whole society needs to be transformed. It needs to be opened up to the participation of the people. Political power and control over resources must be shared. We need revolutionary change.
Our unity has never been as urgent a necessity as it is today. The students and the youth, the rural and the poor, the Unemployed People’s Movement and other movements such as Abahlali base Mjondolo, Ilizwi Lamafama, etc. need to unite and form once progressive bloc. We are the agents of change not the new elite that has betrayed the struggle. We need to unite outside their movements because they have privatised our struggle. Like the formation of the Black Consciousness Movement did in the 1970s, we need to unite in our own space, define our own struggle and politics and shake the barricades of neo-liberalism. Forging a real unity of poor people’s movements and the wider rebellion of the poor with the progressive intelligentsia is of paramount importance.
Ayanda Kota is the spokesperson for the Unemployed People’s Movement, Grahamstown